It’s Columbine time.

The wild columbines in my garden are in their full glory.

I collected a few handfuls of seeds from plants in the forest on the ridge between my village and the border with Switzerland, some years ago. I chose a variety of colours, but they are all on the wild pallet of purple and pink.

Over the years they have self seeded in the shady parts of the garden and the variety of colours is amazing. Every year I try and photograph them and am always dissatisfied with the result. The flowers are down ward pointing and it seems impossible to capture their beauty and delicacy.

Some of the flowers have double and triple whorls of petals and I think their variation would have inspired Gregor Mendel to unlock the secrets of genetic variation in his famous monastic garden.

All types of bees visit the flowers . Here is a fat carpenter bee looking for nectar.

The bumble bees bite into the spurs of the flowers to reach the nectar faster and the next bees use the easy access too. You can see the bite holes in this picture.

The name columbine come from the Latin for dove and the shy down turned flower is supposed to look like a ring of doves’ heads.

Like all of the most beautiful things in life, they are transient. The warm weather will see them pollinated quickly and soon the patio will be painted with the bright confetti of their multicoloured, fallen petals.

For a sore back.

Long Live The Weeds
by Theodore Roethke

Long live the weeds that overwhelm
My narrow vegetable realm! –
The bitter rock, the barren soil
That force the son of man to toil;
All things unholy, marked by curse,
The ugly of the universe.
The rough, the wicked and the wild
That keep the spirit undefiled.
With these I match my little wit
And earn the right to stand or sit,
Hope, look, create, or drink and die:
These shape the creature that is I.

Calendar for your mouthful of the world.

I came across a wonderful article describing how the Japanese seasons are separated in to five day micro seasons, after ancient Chinese segments adapted for the Japanese climate. The segments are such marvellously subtle slices from the time when deer shed their antlers to when the bears go into their dens . From when the wheat germinates under the snow, to when the first cherry blossom opens.

It made me think about a calendar for my corner of the world from when Madame Charlotte’s walnut tree finally breaks into leaf ( third week of May ) to when the snails climb up the plant stalks ( driest time in late August) . There is the time when the first crickets sing at night, to the thickest dew on the ladies mantle leaves; the full moon when the moths don’t fly ( tonight !) to the time when the first slugs devour new the iris flowers ( tomorrow!)

I think I will work on my own 72 divisions, but it can’t be done right now as this season is undeniably the busiest of them all. It can wait until the garden seems asleep and there is nothing else to do. In the meantime, take a look at this wonderful list and maybe start to plan your own version for your own corner of the world, or maybe wait until the winter when the ice forms!

Happy Rikka.

https://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00124/

Changes ( for Carol)

Nothing stays the same and at this time of year the changes are so rapid that a blink and it seems as if you are in another country.

The blossom comes, the blackbirds sing ,

The leaves come and the blackbirds sing.

The grasses flower and the blackbirds sing,

Crickets puncture the night , after the blackbird sings:

And the first bat scissors the dusk,

And tomorrow the blackbird still sings .

On the waiting windowsill

I was inspired to photograph my window sill today by Flighty at flightplot.Wordpress.com . So here it is : two overwintered geraniums, two small trays of seedlings and an absurd sunflower .

The sunflower found its way from the bird seed in to the vegetable seedling trays and very soon out grew the chilli seedlings that were supposed to be germinating there. I have given it its own pot for fun and have been astonished by how much it has grown. I turn it every day and soon it will be taller than the window frame.

Of course it should be in the garden and that is the tension of this time of year. I want to plant everything out, but it is still cool at night and if I go too early , the seedlings will be stunted or worse still, frosted by the ice saints. Saint Sophia’s feast day is May 15th and it often coincides with a few days of really cold weather in this part of Europe . She is known as Kalt Sophie and can be the last frost of the spring and it isn’t advisable to put anything tender out before this date.

So my window sill is still is groaning under geraniums that have kept me cheerful all winter and flower seedlings ( cosmos) for later on the season and gherkin seedlings for tiny cucumbers harvesting when it is hot .

Two more weeks seems a long time to wait when the sun is shining and my fingers are itching to plant them outdoors. It is such a wonderful time of renewed life . Everything is far from perfect in the world, the news from the Ukraine is appalling and Russia seems to want to start World War Three, so I turn to my laden window sill; to faith in goodness and to the glory of the garden.

Night time

I fall asleep to “Just William “ books. Gentle escapism of the most perfectly dated nature allows me blot out the world and while I sleep, the moths reclaim the night.

The first wonderful specimen is an emperor moth. It is the only European member of a family which is much more wide spread in the tropics. The huge eyes are to scare away birds and other predators and when it flies in the day, it is often mistaken for a butterfly.

The second moth perched on my finger is a purple thorn . It’s Latin name is tetra luna which refers to the four half moon shapes that just catch the light from the window in this shot (at the top edge of the jagged wing.)

The third moth is a peach blossom. The improbable pink blotches on the wings look like the delicately coloured flowers of that fruit tree.

The last moth is most prized because it is new to me. It is called a pine beauty and I had great difficulty in identifying it as I was mistakenly convinced it was a type of swift moth ( due to the way it sits) . Unsurprisingly, it lives in pine trees and it’s gingered, pink appearance apparently allows it to hide in yellowing needles ( though I find that hard to believe!)

So while we sleep, some beautiful things fly free, even if it is just our dreams!

Finding love.

If you are a masonry bee, finding love needs some patience. These amorous bees have taken up residence in my bee houses and are very obvious at this time of year, but I really understood very little about their life and love cycle ( and probably still don’t!)

In March, apparently, the male grubs hatch and bite their way out of the mud blocked bamboo canes . They are distinguishable from the females by their white hairy faces. They then have to wait for the females to emerge and often back right back into the hollow canes to wait for their date. A line of these whiskered bees reminds me of impatient bearded blokes waiting for their girl friends outside of the ladies’ changing rooms in a clothes store .

When the long awaited ( and larger) female bee finally emerges, they buzz around each other and finally mate, sometimes wrestling her to the ground and fighting off other males. She then gathers as much pollen as she can and makes a bright yellow bed of pollen food onto which she lays her fertilized egg. This bed is then laid in the empty bee “ room” of the bee “hotel” and grub slowly eats its own bed as it grows in the quiet safely of the plugged up tube.

Some times there is no room in the hotel and the female needs to find somewhere else to lay her egg. I have been most perplexed to find myself unable to put on a gardening glove sometimes and found that the fingers of the glove were blocked by something. When teased out, the blockage was bright yellow and I now realise that I had inadvertently evicted a masonry bee lava and his tasty bed of yellow pollen.

I have put up more “hotels” this season and I hope that all the bees emerging this year will find a comfortable space to start the next generation again!

Waiting for a mate!

Cabbages and Kings.

These are the last cabbages of the season. They have hung on all winter and have now been picked so the vegetable plot can be rotivated for the new growing season.

I love their tenacity, how they stay green in snow and frost and the complexity of their texture and colours .

The Alsace was once famous for growing huge cabbages, which were shredded for making choucroute or sauerkraut on the other side of the Rhine. The fields were also home to the wonderful Giant Hamster of the Alsace which is just surviving by the skin of it’s rodent teeth in the face of industrialized agriculture: protected from complete extinction in a few tiny reserves.

My best friend, when I lived in Kazakhstan, was a Russian lady with a wonderful garden behind her small house. She grew cabbages and pumpkins and walls of flowers and roses and I often think of that productive and beautiful patch of earth on the edge of the city, where we ate shaslik from the bbq with Uighur friends in the shade of a plum tree.

The Emperor Diocletian was the only Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate power and to step down before he was killed in war or was assassinated . He decided to give up the power of his vast empire and to retire and simply grow cabbages in his garden.

When asked to return to lead his people again he is said to have replied that if you could see my cabbages you would understand the impossibility of the suggestion.

I think some current emperors could learn from this. Growing cabbages is far more noble than going to war, as history has proven. And if no one else will thank you; then maybe the Giant Hamster will.

It’s still Fasnacht here!

Water World

This picture is the underside of a Victoria amazonica leaf that had just been hauled out of the water at the botanic gardens in Basel. It was so huge and so extraordinarily spiny it had to be photographed .

Last night I watched the incomparable Green Planet from the BBC with the similarly unequalled David Attenborough. He showed the aquatic battles for light that go on in clean rivers and wetlands between the plants that float and fight so slowly in this apparently peaceful world . The most memorable Timelapse shots were of the gigantic shoots of the Amazon waterlilly sweeping the water clear of other plants to make space for the titanic unfolding of a new leaf. The leaf was armored with the fiercest dagger spines which I well remember gingerly touching in the sunshine outside of the hot house, as the Basel trams rumbled on by . The spines could crush and pierce anything that got in its way as the leaf covered the water in its metre wide plate of photosynthesising aggression.

Ironic that the flower is seen as symbolizing peaceful serenity.

Shows how little we really know!

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Laidback Gardeners

In 2022, why not spend more time enjoying your garden and less on working in it! Ill.: Claire Tourigny ByContinue Reading

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Laidback Gardeners

I so agree with this post . Less work on mowing and leaf collection and spraying noxious chemical means more time to smell the roses and enjoy the garden and all the life it can support!

Here is to a wildlife and time rich 2022 in the garden for all!

Tardigrade on the table!

After writing my last blog where I mentioned tardigrades possibly lumbering through the moss, my husband was inspired to dust off his microscope and we finally went looking for them in earnest.

Moss bears like damp places and after a very wet year our garden is full of moss. We took a random clump, soaked it overnight in a little water and put a drop of the water from the moss on a slide.

Within minutes my husband yelled that he could see one. I haven’t looked down a microscope for a spectacularly long time and took a much longer time to make out the tiny translucent blob that had to be arrowed before I could see it.

Without his help I don’t think I would have seen it, but once I was convinced it wasn’t a trick of the light, I could see the hoover bag body and the stumpy legs of this astounding creature . I had almost considered them to be mythical : but there it was, a real tardigrade!

Swimming in the drop of water were euglena , algae that can swim . All the rules are being broken by looking closely at the moss at the foot of my humble bird table.

“ To see the world in grain of sand, infinity in an hour…” Blake .

Happy Christmas folks!

A tardigrade through a much more powerful microscope!

There is life everywhere !

Empty gardens turn my eyes to other things and I am always delighted to see life in the oddest places . My bird table has a lichen on its roof and it flares pale green in the wintry light .

This is probably Parmotrema perlatum and it is indicative of cleanish air. Lichens are a very ancient symbiosis of an algae and fungi combining the abilities of both to create an organism capable of living in virtually every place on the planet and colonising the most unpromising surface for life .

There are two other types of lichen just on this little bit of wood. I can’t identify them with confidence but their compact, complex beauty astounds me.

The post of the bird table is streaked with green algae and it seems fluorescent on this dark day. At the foot of the table is an up turned slab that is being slowly smothered in moss. I have thought of brushing it off, but for what reason? Why would a bare concrete slab be more lovely than this moist moss garden that I like to hope harbours mysterious tardigrades clambering slowly through like teddy bears?

Oh and the sparrows come for breadcrumbs and scraps everyday on the table of the bird feeder. They harry me with indignant squawking should I forget them and dare to step out of the house empty handed.

They are not however the only life here, the table it’s self is almost more extraordinary, if a deal quieter, than the hungry birds themselves!

Breakfast for the birds

Sit back?

The dahlias are dug up. The gladioli that just out flowered the first frost, but never put on any weight around the corm, are drying in the sitting room and hoping that the cat won’t wee on them.

The pumpkins are now safe in the cellar. I thought the cat had weed on one of them, but in fact I had maligned the poor cooped up beast and the unexpected moisture was just the result of rot. The other pumpkins are fine and soup will soon be made.

The last beetroot are being eaten cold with vinegar and flower seeds are being distributed to any one that I can persuade to take them.

It may seem time to sit back and do nothing as the year rolls in, but there are vines and roses to prune; bird feeders to fill; pine needles to sweep and that bag of onion sets that is about to sprout, to be finally planted out.

“Haa, haa “, crow the ravens as they pair up in the cooling November air.

Small World.

There are so many environmental problems facing the world that I have to admit to feeling often overwhelmed . The news gives us the big picture and our own eyes and ears show us the reality in our own backyard. My safe place is the garden and so I nurture it and I celebrate it, but it is so very small .

I can’t even protect the hedgehog that feeds in it, or the blackbird that sings over it, as they need more space than I can ever provide . When they leave my garden they can be strimmed or shot or just go hungry. The moths that I identify so diligently need places to pupate and leaves to eat. The red kite that soars overhead needs voles to eat and the voles need rough ground to burrow in and the bats that weave the night together, need old trees to sleep in and safe roofs to bring their babies up in.

The sky and the earth do not belong to everybody, what ever magical thinking we may indulge in. The earth can be covered in concrete, sprayed with poisons and ploughed to dust. The sky can be emptied of the trees that should be swaying in it and the clouds can be full of unbreathable pollution.

So, shall I just plant taller hedges? Stay sane by staying small? Plug my ears to the sound of encroaching construction, chain saws and crop sprayers?

I have started with my husband and very knowledgeable neighbours to catalogue every hedge and tree in the village . We hope this might eventually stop the grubbing up and chopping down that happens on daily basis in the name of tidiness and profit.

We have to have faith . That is all we have.

Still flowers.

As a child I always considered the cold didn’t start until after Guy Fawks and this year the weather seems true to a long time ago in Cheshire.

Flowers are hanging on where they have been spared mower and strimmer and I have seen a handful of poppies, some hard heads and a spray of harebells still flowering on field edges. In the garden petunias and marigolds and a few geraniums are still bright. The dahlias have been touched by the frost but not yet slain and some very late gladiolus are a spear of colour against the falling leaves.

When I started gardening in a real garden ( as opposed to my previous tiny international balconies ) I thought I needed to be true to all the gardening manuals I had read and to cut down everything and to tidy and clean up, ready for the winter. Then I lived with my garden for a few years and realised that a “ tidy” garden was in fact a very boring and a virtually dead garden for far too many months of the year. There was no where for the caterpillars to pupate, no corners for the hedgehog to forage in and no where for the birds to perch and peck.

So I have learnt to ignore the outdated gardening manuals and to leave the clearing up the garden for as long as possible. Yes, I am encouraging slugs and snails and things that will eat my flowers and vegetables, but I am also encouraging life and trying to live with it. I don’t grow things that cannot withstand a few slugs and snails, white fly, black fly etc etc . I don’t use weed killer or insecticides not because I love all insects, but because why would you spray poisonous chemicals around your own home when you don’t have to? The world is full of enough noxious ness without adding to it just to conform to a very misguided and outdated concept of “tidy” .

So my garden continues to harbour the last flowers, the hedgehog poo that shows she is still feeding in the weedy corners and the caterpillars looking for a quiet spot to dream the winter safely away.

This year.

It hasn’t been a particularly fruitful year this year. No walnuts, no plums, virtually no black currents, no sloe berries for the gin. The late raspberries have been good and I managed to make a salad made of my own beetroots, late celery, the single apple from my tree and a few walnuts kept over from last year.

The grapes at the front of the house were not even worth picking.

They have been left on the vine and the blackbirds are loving them. Amongst the curling leaves there is great clicking and scolding as the birds vie for the plumpest remaining grape. I think we have had more entertainment from their competition than we ever did from the few litres of grape juice we usually make from our tiny harvest.

After all my positive thinking about how the vaccine will bring greater freedom, it seems I am unlucky enough to be taking one of the very few medications that prevent the taker from making antibodies to Covid. After three jabs I am still unprotected and not venturing far a field.

The vaccines have brought infection rates down hugely and saved so many lives which is wonderful news .

Nothing has changed for me since spring 2019. This hasn’t been a personally fruitful year but the wet summer has at least been a bonanza for the birds!

Night of the Light Emeralds.

This morning the lawn was spangled with light emerald moths, caught in the grassy dew and just waiting for the climbing sun to dry them out.

The moth trap was also full of them and it seemed as if every blue wall was studded with them . Their colour fades until they can be as pale as paper, but the white line across the wings is always diagnostic.

September is a cross over month. The summer Jersey Tigers and Large yellow underwings are still here and the yellow shells are still flying, but the autumn pinions, snouts and marbled carpets are turning up too. Some caterpillars are eating voraciously, hoping to make cocoons that will over winter in the leaf litter to provide us with the moths and butterflies of next season. The more I find out about moths, the more I realise that so many species over winter on the ground in leaf litter and hedges, which makes me even more determined not to tidy up my garden completely, but to leave plenty of “scruffy “ overgrown places for the cocoons to survive.

We have to resist the urge to tidy, trim and blow if there is to be any wildlife left.

That said; I am struggling not to move this knotgrass caterpillar off my rhubarb plant. I want the moth and my rhubarb to survive!

The eternal dilemma of the green gardener!

Locked away

This time of year I collect seeds.

The whole plant is now locked away in the tiniest of seeds.

Sometimes they will germinate in Autumn rains and survive the winter, but most often the seed will just wait it out until the spring comes and conditions are right to explode into life.

Seeds are so tiny in comparison to the plant they may become. All that complex information for life is locked away safely in the dry seed and it’s survival is so improbable that it makes collecting the autumn seeds seem like the most important thing I can do . I know seed catalogs are full of technicolor promise for the spring, but these are seeds that I know will grow again. I collect nasturtiums, sweet William, dames violet, wall flowers and lettuce. Some things will just seed without needing to be collected like roucoula , columbine and marigolds. Some will need the lure of the seed catalogue like chard and pumpkin and fennel, but all will be an astounding testimony to what can grow out from the locked away life!

Race against time.

There was no summer this year.

If I had been Mary Shelley, sheltering from a similarly sodden season in Switzerland, I should have written “Frankenstein”, but I am not suitably talented or tormented and so I spent my time identifying moths and cutting back hedges.

Now that it is officially autumn the sun has finally come out and we can stop lighting fires and sit in the garden instead.

Migration has started. The wires are beaded with massing swallows and just occasionally the tropical burble of bee eaters can be caught as they head south . The village roads are full of motorbikes touring through the Jura before the cold penetrates their very expensive leather kits. Local farmers thunder by bringing in hay that has lain too long in the rainy fields and the wood from the forest is being brought in by every ancient tractor still working.

Everybody is sawing and stacking wood. The village may not grow grapes or make cheese, but it has plenty of trees and there is always wood for the winter.

My dahlias have only just started to flower and they are in a race with the frost . One or two flame coloured flowers are betting on the autumn being warm still. I am a pessimist by nature and prefer to place my bet on our wood stack!

To keep ourselves amused.

When lock down seemed doomed to go on forever and vaccines seemed like an mythical rumour, I planted some carrot seeds in an old pair of wellington boots. My husband made holes in the soles for drainage and away I went!

The seeds germinated and grew a bit . I watered them a lot and even fed them. Eventually I pulled the much anticipated roots up and the profoundly underwhelming results are there for all to see.

Thank goodness the vaccines have been much more impressive!

Thanks to the plummeting death rates: lockdown down is now over for the vaccinated in France; cafes, theatres and restaurants are fully open again. It feels strange to be with others again, but at least you know the people around you indoors are also vaccinated , as they have had to show their pass to get in. I know the vaccine does not guarantee complete safety from infection, but the more people have the jab ( and luckily France has enough vaccines that everybody who wants one, can have one) the chances of getting very sick are diminishing all the time.

Hopefully next spring won’t be so confined and bizarre that planting carrots in old footwear will seem like a good idea!

What boredom will lead to!

Up and down

The teasels are flowering.

The circle of purple flowers opens both up and down the flower heads and they remind me of the wonderful lines about the candle burning at both ends.

“My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –

It gives a lovely light.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Thistles: 1918.

When the brief firework of flowers are over, the seed heads will ripen and the dried heads will stand all winter long to feed the meticulous goldfinches when there seems nothing left to eat in the world.

The prickly, unpromising Teasels really are a “lovely light” at both ends of the year.